A stark reminder of the difference between cops, soldiers and civilians


Several weeks ago I was at a critique circle reading one of my true cop stories, “Just Another Night on Smith Street”. It’s about a shooting outside a club in a bad part of town.


The way this critique circle works, everyone brings their piece, every member reads each piece and writes comments, then when everyone’s done the group discusses each piece. In my piece, I related many vivid details of the shooting. I was at the station when the shooting call came in, and in the story I mentioned something I said before I went to the call:

“I looked at the other two officers, smiled and said ‘I don’t wanna go.’ Then I ran out the door to my car and sped away.”

I didn’t think that part of the story was a big deal. It was just part of the overall incident, one tiny bit of an extremely memorable experience. Since I was at a critique circle, I expected my story to be criticized and torn apart by the other writers there; I get valuable advice from every critique and make significant changes based on that advice. And I got plenty of comments that night. But I wasn’t prepared for one of them.

As we went over my piece, a very good writer mentioned the part where I said I didn’t want to go. He asked, “I don’t get this part. If you didn’t want to go, why did you go?”

I was dumbfounded. I actually stammered a little as I tried to answer him.

“I…uh…I had to…I mean…I’m a cop. I really…I don’t have a choice.”

At this point, two other writers piped up. “I didn’t understand that either. Why’d you go?”

One of the three had even written the comment on my piece:

"I don't understand how he said he doesn't want to go and then goes."

“I don’t understand how he said he doesn’t want to go and then goes.”

We had a discussion about it. I tried, and failed, to explain that it was my duty. I guess we cops have a choice not to act, but our sense of duty makes us head toward danger. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror if I failed to act when I was expected to. My cop and military friends are the same way.

After a few minutes discussion, I told the other writers, “I’m actually shocked at this comment. I never expected anyone to ask why police have to go to dangerous scenes.” But I don’t think I made them understand a sense of duty.

I can look back on many instances where I and the people around me headed into danger, because it was our duty. The very scary convoy when my team delivered Iraq’s first election ballots into Najaf, a week after we arrived in country. The night I had to clear an alley by myself, after I found a man shot in the head outside a club and witnesses said, “The shooter ran into that alley.” The morning I rode into a raging firefight with other silent, tense soldiers in the back of an armored vehicle, listening as other Americans yelled for help over the radio. The night I walked up to what I thought was a roadside bomb in Iraq, because my convoy was stopped right next to it and I had to. The many times I got out of my police car shaking, because I was scared of the fight I knew I was about to get into. It wasn’t bravery, it wasn’t heroism. It just had to be done. It was our duty. Not doing it was as unthinkable as a mother refusing to run into traffic to grab her toddler.

The writers who made that comment weren’t stupid or evil; they were well-educated, and one was a college professor. All were good, decent people. One I had just met, one was a very nice woman who I don’t know well, and one was a good guy who I consider a friend. They’re all talented writers. But I guess in their vision of my world, when dispatch says “We just got a shooting call, you need to go,” I can just answer, “Nah, I’ll pass. I’m not feeling it tonight.” And I have to ask, who do they think is going to handle these problems? Who is going to catch murderers, or fight back against enemies who want to attack us? Do they have any idea what the world is really like?

I’m not insulting or demeaning the other writers in any way. But this conversation was a shock, and an eye opener. I learned something at that critique meeting.

I learned that only a select few of us really understand what a sense of duty is. The rest of the country just doesn’t get it. This is why so many people can’t understand why we cops perform such a crappy job for crappy pay, or why we soldiers repeatedly risk our lives in what many view as pointless wars.

I write about that sense of duty. But I don’t know that it’s understood by anyone who didn’t understand it already. And to tell you the truth, that depresses the hell out of me.



76 Responses to “A stark reminder of the difference between cops, soldiers and civilians”

  1. 1 Brett

    Some things you just cannot explain to those that have never lived it.

    • I’m not sure on that. I know that my wife understands, as does yours. Although the fact that they lived through our deployments might mean they did a sort of duty themselves. But I like to think there are civilians who get what we do and why we do it.

  2. It’s odd….i’m both shocked, yet not surprised that certain people feel this way. Or don’t understand duty and responsibility of this magnitude. I don’t know what your policy is on posting external links in your comments Chris (so i apologize and understand if you remove it), but i just read something this morning that I believe pertains to what you wrote about (IMHO).

    It’s worth a read, let me know what you think if you have the time to read it.


    • Scott,

      No problem on posting external links. I’ve read that essay before, and I agree with it, although I’m a little put off by the word “sheepdog”. Probably just because too many people use it to describe themselves, when they shouldn’t.

      • I hear you there…as with certain other things, when i hear it, i can only hope it’s not being used as a “look at me i’m a badass”. As several others have said below, i’m neither a police officer nor military, but i sure as heck understand duty. And as as such as i’m capable of in my own capacity, you can bet i am my family’s protector.

  3. 7 Eowyn

    I’m not shocked, although I’m saddened. I’m neither a cop nor in the military, but I understood that notion of doing what needed to be done *because* it was the duty.

    I work in the college system, and I am seeing fewer and fewer students who understand the notion of doing something “because it needs to be done”, especially if the doer would really rather not.

    • I know some civilians “get it”, but my perception is that the number is getting much smaller, and is probably miniscule compared to previous generations. Hell, we have a huge portion of the population who doesn’t even believe in acting to defend themselves and their families from mass murderers. They think it’s someone else’s responsibility.

  4. 9 Juli Adcock

    Chris, it was not always that way in this country. In the beginning of the country, someone who did not understand duty was the exception, not the rule and was viewed with great contempt.
    It is a reflection of many things occurring, the least of which is being detached from personal responsibility to a greater and greater degree. Consider the joke sent around on the internet of a newspaper clipping in which an empty headed person says to stop hunting poor defenseless animals and go to the grocery store for meat where no animals were harmed.
    Now citizens are increasingly not only being discouraged from defending themselves, they are often punished legally and socially for “taking the law into their own hands”. School policies are stamping out independent thought to include even the notion that a person should defend themselves against an aggressor. Earlier and earlier people are being taught to leave self defense to others and that if things are too hard, just wait, the standards will be lowered. Government is your family and will take care of you.
    That being said, not all citizens are in such dire straits. I’ve taught many an Appleseed Project rifle clinic and it is comforting to meet many citizens that understand duty.

    • Juli,

      I switch between despair and hope on this issue. We’re definitely losing that sense of responsibility, but is it possible more people still have it than we think?

      • 11 Juli Adcock

        I think more people have it than we think, partly because of the media distortion of reality and those that understand duty aren’t the ones needing the services of law enforcement for the most part. Therefore, we really don’t see them.
        That said, this quality of understanding duty is a very perishable thing and in my opinion, the duty of those of us who “get it” to continue to take advantage of every teachable moment to preserve and even promote this element of good citizenship.
        The other aspect of this is engaging the forces that are killing the initiative, sense of honor and duty and so on of our up and coming generations. Failing to engage means failure of the grand experiment in self governance. There will be a nation called America, but it will not mean the same thing as it did when we grew up.

  5. Duty is hard enough to instill in others in the military, even for the routine task, let alone the everyday courageous ones.

    Expecting to find a vague understanding of the concept among civilians is a bleak search for a less and less relevant concept to their lives, like looking for hamsters on the surface of the moon.

    Nowadays, the only two things people have/i to do is breathe, and eventually die; everything else is optional. (Forget the old saw about death and taxes, as less than 50% even pay those anymore.)

    We have programmed any thought of obedience to something greater than oneself out of entire generations of people, and are daily reaping the fruit of that monumentally stupid societal approach. And we live and move amongst an entire culture with a planetary rotation problem, that think the entire universe rotates about their own navels, and live their lives accordingly, to the utter peril of themselves, their families, friends, workmates, and the entire civilization.

    • All true. But I’m hoping there are enough people, military, veteran, first responders plus civilians with no LE/MIL background, who have or understand a sense of duty and could help bring it back to society.

  6. 14 Robert Vicknair

    I read your story and wasn’t surprised of your reaction. I was a Police Officer over 35 years ago, and my wife is still surprised when we are driving around town and I see something suspicious and “make the block” to see if I can help. I guess it gets into the blood.

  7. 17 JOsez

    Always find your postings interesting- whether just entertained, or fuel for introspection. Thanks and hope you continue to find the time to do it! Good stuff via comaderie~
    This post got me… yah… just… yah… Boggled me… It is not just you!
    Bizarre feeling isn’t it?!

    (file under e.g. Simple as a flower~(Sure! Oh, sorta? Uh, I guess Not really-depends? LOL) Yah try to explain a ‘simple thing’, and it almost can’t be conveyed??

    I “get” it, on some level, their view, but it really IS internally perplexing, that they don’t REALLY get it. I can percieve their initial, “why did you go”, yup- seems like confused or superficial, as you pointed out. OH- your Job, your DUTY? hello?
    I mean, deeply, what job doesn’t have aspects that you may loathe- but you DO it.(industrial maintenance-some ick memories-for piss money too) Maybe their prior life experience/job(??) has been beatific, uneventful? Really does give them the luxury of deferring sucky details to others… Lucky them I guess.
    dur- lightbulb! Just like truly crazy folk-YOU can’t grasp their reasoning without BEING them, CAN’T go there~.
    No offense to the group either, – it is just they really have a certain node that is not aligned as (y)ours I guess. I’ll stop babbling now too;) hmmm

  8. 19 Daniel Ortiz

    Sorry to hear you’re bummed about your critic’s comments. I’m not sure what I thought about other’s people’s sense of duty and responsibility prior to this, but your article made me consider the fact that some folks really may not understand the feeling. I say feeling because I’m sure they understand the concept. But that feeling you get when you realize you’re in a position to intercede and influence a series of events for the better, it’s a familiar (if rare for an engineer like me) feeling and it goes right to one’s core. I guess that’s not constant across the board of good men and women.

    It’s funny, because I read your story prior to this post, and I remember that part very vividly. I remember it so well because I can clearly imagine myself in the same situation. You’re the front line of defense against some event. You’re in a position of safety with friends that you know you must leave, and what can you do but make fun about the irony of the situation. “I don’t want to go.” It’s the truth. I know I wouldn’t. But you, and your buddies, know that that’s not possible, and it’s funny. Then you go. I feel I would have done the same thing, or something very similar.

    You (I presume?) made some sort of an oath upon becoming a police officer, to do just what you did. It’s your job and your responsibility. That’s a pretty evident and high level of duty. But there’s a more basic level that I guess some people have, and others don’t. It’s that feeling that when a fellow man is in danger, and knowing you have the ability to render effective aid, you feel compelled to do so, even in the face of danger (to varying degrees). It’s a feeling of protecting others, and I’m sure you feel it given your military and police service. It reminds me of the story as I heard it (alas I haven’t read the bible yet) about Cain and Able, and how God asked Cain about his brother Able after he killed him, and Cain said something along the lines of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And the short and honorable answer is yes. We’re each other’s keepers. So look out for your fellow man. Not all will, but for those that feel compelled to, I have a feeling God is extra proud of them.

    • Daniel,

      The critics’ comments bummed me out because they seemed representative of a mindset held by a much larger segment of the population. To me, duty is as you described your understanding of it; you and your buddies know you have to do something dangerous, you know it sucks, you bitch or joke about it and then you do it. I did in fact take an oath, both as a cop and a soldier; but it seems that we shouldn’t need an oath to at least understand “duty”.

      We are our brother’s keeper. I mean, most of the time we should just leave each other alone, but for crying out loud, we should come to each other’s aid in a crisis.

  9. 21 OK. Sun

    When Duty whispers low, Thou must.
    The youth replies, I can.

    I’m reminded sometimes of Emerson’s lecture on Courage:

    A large majority of men being bred in families, and beginning early to be occupied day by day with some routine of safe industry, never come to the rough experiences that make the Indian, the soldier, or the frontiersman self-subsistent and fearless. Hence the high price of courage indicates the general timidity.

    Cowardice shuts the eyes till the sky is not larger than a calf-skin; shuts the eyes so that we cannot see the horse that is running away with us; worse, shuts the eyes of the mind and chills the heart. Fear is cruel and mean. The political reigns of terror have been reigns of madness and malignity,— a total perversion of opinion; society is upside down, and its best men are thought too bad to live. Then the protection which a house, a family, neighborhood and property, even the first accumulation of savings, gives go in all times to generate this taint of the respectable classes.

  10. 23 Scott Timmons

    You are not alone in wondering what happened to people and personal responsibility. Many years ago, my first FTO told me, “you don’t get paid for the times we sit here, drinking coffee and watching the world go by. You get paid for the times someone says, ‘there’s an axe murderer in that house chopping up people’ and you run into the house.”
    At the time it seemed normal to me, I was taking responsibility for my actions and assuming the responsibility to help and protect others. Now, it seems like no one understands that type of focus.
    Keep up the good writing. I loved Line in the Valley! And I still want to read a good cop book from you.
    PS> Keep Jerry alive!

    • Your FTO’s quote reminds me of what I tell my soldiers: “We’re not training for the missions where everything goes right and we all come home safe. We’re training for that one mission where everything goes wrong.”

      And since you mentioned it, how much do I have to pay you to drop a review on Amazon? 🙂

  11. Wow. Just having to ask why boggles my mind.

    If not us? Who?

    Great stuff as always.

    • Thanks Sarge. Your question, “If not us, who?” reminds me of a quote from Ralph Peters. Paraphrasing, “Crises aren’t handled by people who live in books.”

  12. 28 Stuart the Viking

    Sometimes other people really do seem like aliens, don’t they?


  13. 31 RandyGC

    For some reason I immediately thought of Jerry Pournelle’s quote:

    “To stand on the firing parapet and expose yourself to danger; to stand and fight a thousand miles from home when you’re all alone and outnumbered and probably beaten; to spit on your hands and lower the pike; to stand fast over the body of Leonidas the King; to be rear guard at Kunu-Ri; to stand and be still to the Birkenhead Drill; these are not rational acts. They are often merely necessary. ”

    You either understand it’s necessary or you don’t, and some folks just can’t be educated.

    I’ve had similar conversations with folks that could not understand the difference between “prepared to die” vs “willing to die”. I’m prepared to die to defend my family and, at a larger scale, defend this country if required. But as Mal Reynolds once said “That ain’t exactly Plan A”. I prefer Gen. Patton’s formulation.

    To some extent I feel sorry for folks that can’t comprehend putting yourself at risk to perform your duty. If there’s nothing in your life worth fighting for, nothing in your life worth dying for, then you probably don’t have much worth living for.

    • 32 Juli Adcock

      Randy, that last sentence says it all for me.

    • I was both prepared to die, and wiling to die IF NECESSARY. However, I did everything I reasonably could have to not die. I never shirked a duty or even decided not to volunteer for a dangerous mission, but when I got shot at, I ducked. I took cover. I tried like hell to find the guy shooting at me and kill him (never found the bastard, either). So yeah, I willingly took risks for a cause I believed in. But I never looks for any grenades to jump on.

      If there’s nothing in your life worth taking those risks for, your life is probably pretty sucky.

  14. What’s so hard to understand about “because it’s my job”? Bizarre.

  15. 36 Boyd

    I think those folks are the exception, not the rule.

    There’s a reason why civilians’ respect for military folk, law enforcement and firefighters has grown over the decades since Vietnam. They get it. They realize that there’s a difference between “us” and “them.” They don’t necessarily understand what it is, but they recognize the difference.

    Those of us who have served, whether it’s military or civilian service where we acknowledge we may have to sacrifice our lives in order to fulfill our duty, acknowledge something bigger than ourselves. Whether that “bigger thing” is deity or community, that’s something that sets us apart from most folks. I’m actually heartened that so many civilians recognize the difference, even if they don’t understand it.

    I’m of the opinion that your author friends are far outside the mainstream. While those who don’t submit to Duty can’t fully understand it, there are clearly many who appreciate the difference between them and those of us who serve.

    • Boyd,

      I agree, but I don’t think my post suggested the other writers didn’t respect it. They just didn’t understand it. I’ve definitely seen the respect most of the public shows us, but I just don’t think too many people really get why we do it.

  16. 38 Mike in KY

    The professor I can understand. I work at a university and academentia is more widespread among tenured faculty than any other employee classification.

    As for the others, it is puzzling that they (or anyone, really) would think a cop could just refuse a dispatch without consequences. Unfortunately, it’s not that surprising.

    • Mike,

      The professor was actually the one who surprised me the most. As I said, none of the commenters were stupid or unreasonable, and the professor was probably the most reasonable and worldly of the three.

  17. 40 Mike

    I think that mindset you talk about is a big reason we (the police) get criticized so much for things. When car thief runs from us and crashes into another car, people always blame us for it. They say “well the police shouldn’t have chased him.” Never mind the fact that the thief is the one who made the decison to run. We have a duty to apprehend criminals.

    If we try to arrest a person and they resist, we get blamed for any injuries that come for the use of force. People make comments like “they tased that guy for shoplifting.” They ignore the fact that the guy decided to fight with the police and that’s why they got tased. I

    It just blows me away that people think we should just shrug our shoulders and walk away if the suspect doesn’t cooperate with the arrest. Sometimes I wish we would decide to operate that way for a few months just so people can see the results. Heck, I already know quite a few officers who have given up and just write the reports.

    • I think some agencies are pretty close to that already. No chase policies, etc. I know some officers think, “I’m going to be criticized no matter what I do, so I may as well just do the minimum.”

  18. A little girl and her civilian family were captured by the Japanese in the Philippine Islands at the onset of WWII, upon her return to the States after we re-took P.I. her girlfriend asked “what was it like” The young lady spoke but a few words when her girlfriend, (who had be stateside) interrupted and said, “I know what you mean, here at home we even had to ration sugar”.it was so terrible! That was the last time this young girl ever discussed her (prison camp) experiences with anyone.

    I can understand that the deeper meaning of war and duty not being understood by most of the population but Chris, I was really taken back when you were asked, “why did you go” and also considering these were educated and intelligent people. Honestly I would have never guessed this would have come to question; it’s so basic, so simple to understand by a man of your life experiences; not to say it’s easy to explain or to be understood by those of a more comfortable life.

    I always thought that the average person knew why we go to war instead of letting war come to us. Why our peace officer are out in the middle of the night in the dredges of society cleaning up but I guess I’m the naive one in this case.

    The thing is, that’s what we fight for, so the population can live a good life. I guess guys like you are doing a great job because people have a relatively safe and comfortable life in this country. Is this a double edged sword as it seems perhaps that when life is too easy people often don’t really understand what made it that way; and in turn perhaps don’t appreciate the value and true meaning of safety and freedom. America is a bubble of goodness in terms of what’s out there but few have that notion.

    I’m still shocked at their questions, I didn’t realize it was this misunderstood at this basic of a level, wow, thanks for the heads up. I’ll have to assume nothing on this subject when it comes to those we’ve protected. What’s sad to me is that If experience is the only teacher than I’m thinking this divided country is in for a pretty good spanking,

    • Patrick,

      I think you’ll appreciate this quote from Robert Heinlein:

      “At least once every human should have to run for his life, to teach him that milk does not come from supermarkets, that safety does not come from policemen, that ‘news’ is not something that happens to other people. He might learn how his ancestors lived and that he himself is no different–in the crunch his life depends on his agility, alertness, and personal resourcefulness.”

  19. 44 SPEMack

    “Duty whispers low, others need not know, but for God and Country I must go.” The sense of duty I see in fellow vets, cops, and hell the kids that work at my Boy Scout camp remind me that there are still things worth fighting for in America. Duty is the one mistress all true men should strive to honor.

    Well said, Chris

    • Thanks Mack. I’m pretty sure more people understand duty than that incident suggests. Plenty of kids get it, maybe it’s even coming back into “fashion”,

  20. 46 Joe in PNG

    My thoughts on the matter is more along the lines of “just how coddled are these critics, anyhow?” Even an 8 year old kid who has to clean up after the cat got sick all over the floor should be able to instantly get the concept of “this task is really unpleasant, and I’d rather be doing something I like, but I’ve got the responsibility to do it, so time to do it”.

    • Joe,

      I think the danger was the part they didn’t get. Sure, we all have to change diapers and other unpleasant stuff. But that diaper isn’t going to kill us. I think the hard part for them was the fact that I knew I might die, and didn’t want to go, but did anyway.

  21. 48 JimP

    “It wasn’t bravery, it wasn’t heroism. It just had to be done. It was our duty. Not doing it was as unthinkable as a mother refusing to run into traffic to grab her toddler.”

    They can not understand, for as Alexander Solzhennitsyn said, “How can a man who is warm possibly understand a man who is cold?” It is beyond their experience.

    I try to get people to join the local Volunteer Fire/Rescue deptartments … and they almost invariably come up with reasons why they can’t …. I note that SOMEBODY has to do this, and tell them I AM SOMEBODY….. and so are they …… this has made some of them a bit testy ….

    • Jim,

      That’s a lot of time and effort for someone to invest, especially considering the fact that fighting fires and rescuing people is all someone else’s responsibility anyway. 🙂

  22. I understand what you’re saying (I’m ex military), but I also kind of wish the distinction between “police” and “civilians” would stop being made. Cops are civilians, they’re part of the community. Or they’re supposed to be.

    The distinction between cops and civilians is part of what’s driving a wedge between those whose job is “to protect and to serve” and the people they’re providing that service for. Maybe it’s kind of quaint to think that changing the terminology will help address the growing divide between those in blue and those who aren’t, but it’d be a start.

    • Comrade Misfit, I think each job has it terminology base for a reason. The same reason LE wears uniforms, a respect and distinction between those who enforce the law and those who don’t as well as those who break the law. Personally I never have and never will consider a Peace Officer a civilian. Police run to danger civilians run from it; Just ask the Police and Fire Fighters who responded to the 911 call at the twin towers.

    • 52 Adam Wegner

      As a current LEO and former Marine, I can say this. I was a civilian (citizen) while serving in the Corps. The distinction is made because of the type of job we do. As a LEO, I cannot simply stand by and watch something bad unfold, I will be crucified by those “civilians” doing the same thing because I failed to act. The military has a job, close with and destroy the enemy; LE has a job also, close with and apprehend the criminal. These are tasks that normal citizens do not do on a daily basis. Same goes with EMT/Fire Services. I swore an oath (twice) to support and defend the constitution and our Nations people, this is not a requirement for the normal civilian. Trust me, there have been a few times when I wish I could have just been a good witness, but my oath required me to step up and step in. Regardless of the color (Blue/Green/Red) of the line, it exists, and it has to for our society to function.

    • 53 Mike

      People tend to get spun up when the term “civilian” is used by cops. It’s not some secret code that reveals we think we are military. All it is really means when used by police is “non-cop”.

      It’s less awkward than saying,” I was writing this guy who wasn’t a cop a ticket when another guy who wasn’t a cop came up and asked me for directions. I don’t understand what all these people who are employed as police officers are thinking sometimes.”

      • 54 Boyd

        I believe the only objection that has some merit is the concern that LEOs referring to non-cops as civilians will instill and reinforce an us-vs-them attitude.

        Personally, I think if any cop is going to have an elitist view of himself and his fellow LEOs, it won’t matter which term he uses. Sure, the terminology can nudge the attitude to some small degree, but the attitude itself is what matters.

    • Comrade,

      You’re correct, and that did occur to me as I wrote the title for this post. But I didn’t feel like I had a good option to use in the title. There is no term I’m aware of that indicates someone is non-military and non-LE, other than “civilian”. Whenever anyone uses the phrase “cops and civilians”, someone invariably objects because cops are civilians too (which is true). But when you use the term “civilians”, nobody ever imagines a cop. So this wasn’t a matter of me thinking cops aren’t civilians or reinforcing an “us and them” mentality, it was just me using the most convenient and generally understood words.

  23. Chris, this article has rattled around in my head for a day now and it’s not settling just right. It occurred to me that intelligent people would know if an individual in LE failed to perform his/her duties that they would eventually be terminated. Perhaps the question wasn’t really “why did you go” but rather why do you choose this line of work.

    My guess is that you love what you do but, (being a sane individual) take no enjoyment in dealing with the high stakes aspect of LE or military service. (fire fighting etc)

    Maybe it’s the difference in mind set between working for income and being (in service) of the people; which has a much different reward? (Any thoughts Chris?)

    • Not sure on that one. They definitely knew I was referring to that specific incident. I think it was the lethal danger part that they didn’t understand. The average, sane person spends their life avoiding danger, so I can see how they wouldn’t get the mentality of those who intentionally go toward it.

  24. There are plenty of terms of duty that might reach them more easily. When the baby’s screaming at 3am and you don’t want to get up, when the puppy just widdled under the bed because it was scared, and you have to deal with it, when the kid’s been sick all night and you still have to go to work, when the cow decides to have her calf at 3am, it’s a breech birth, and there’s no one to help you turn it. When you see a lost child wandering alone, crying and scared in a crowd, when a drunk female friend calls you at two am because she’s lost her purse and needs a ride home.

    When you get woken at three-something in the morning by a pounding on the door, and find a crying teenager shivering in the subzero temperatures, wearing lace and not much else and sniveling “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but you were the only safe place I knew I could go…”

    There’s no option to turn away, not if you want to look yourself in the mirror and call yourself a human, a man (or woman.) That’s duty, that’s responsibility, to civilians.

    When one of my subordinates gets off five tons of equipment, staggers to a trash can, and hurls up the last three days’ worth of meals, I really don’t want to walk up and deal with it. But I am their leader, and they are all my responsibility. So I take a deep breath, and go deal with it while everyone else draws back and looks uncomfortable.

    Take heart. There are plenty of us around, keeping the world going. We just tend not to be the ones that cops or EMTs ever deal with, unless our world’s fallen apart more than we can handle. We’re the neighborhoods you rarely patrol, the rest of the cars passing by in between the drunks and reckless speeders, the sports fans that flow past and go away with a minimum of traffic direction while you’re dealing with the belligerent. We’re the well behaved family at the pizza place, the two tired-looking people sitting at a table and smiling at each other at the chinese buffet that you look completely past while looking for trouble. You’ll never see us on TV, never hear about us except when the pundits are fretting over “those darned middle americans in flyover country who aren’t voting my way”, the people who get called “stupid redneck” and “cismale genernormative fascists” and just shrug it off and keep going.

    Personally, I prefer “salt of the earth”, but I never expect people with too much credentialism and not enough education to understand. My husband, with the scars from assegai and AK47? He understands, and enjoys his separate peace in the American suburbs.

    • 60 Juli Adcock

      Very well said, Wing! I thank God that I was given opportunities to run across “regular” Americans during my stint on patrol. Made all the difference in my attitude!

    • Wing,

      I agree with Juli, that was well said. The only disagreement I have with it is that you seem to be saying I didn’t believe many people understood duty before this incident (and if I’m wrong on that please correct me, it’s just my gut feeling). I actually grew up believing most people got it, and only a select few didn’t. The big shock was hearing that question from people who I absolutely thought would get it. I didn’t expect good, decent, intelligent adults to question me about that.

      And please tell your husband Welcome to America for me. Doesn’t matter how long he’s been here, I’m glad to have another person who appreciates what we have in this country. 🙂

      • I am unclear (and longwinded.) 🙂 I mean to say “they may get it if you offer these examples”, followed by “and just because those specific people you expected to be sane, er, aware of duty, aren’t, doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty who do.”

        Sadly, I’ve run into a few cops who spent so much time dealing with the same fraction of ..dysfunction… over and over, that after dealing with people (especially academia) presenting the same attitude wrapped in an upper-middle-class outfit, they came to the conclusion that the general public was all like that. I’m thankful you aren’t, but thus my meandering last half of that comment.

        No offense meant!

        • Duty is a concept….

          There is a vast difference between knowledge and “Knowing” It’s the difference between linear and globular. How one sees the following statement is an example of this concept. Perceptions can lie but the hair on the back of one’s neck is brutally honest.

        • No offense taken at all, thanks Wing. You’re right, we cops tend to get a very skewed view of the public. Some of the most angry, bitter people I’ve ever met were cops who didn’t retire when they should have.

  25. 65 reserve corporal

    Hey guys,
    for me it s a good thing that those writers just didn t understood what’s that mean.
    I think that way because, they feel safe, they probably never been in a dangerous situation, or never seen anyone in a dangerous situation, i t s trully good for them.
    But in an other hand it s sad that they never figured out that you don t have to be happy when you respond to the call of duty, you should just do it.
    from my point of view they just learn something, and that is always good.

    • Corporal,

      I think you are partially correct. It’s good that they didn’t understand the danger, but it’s not good that they didn’t understand why some of us voluntarily go toward that danger. In my police career I’ve had to deal with people who had recently lost a child; I would tell them, “I don’t know how you feel, and I hope I never find out. But I understand it must be a horrible, painful experience.” So even if the other writers don’t understand the feeling, they should still understand the reason.

  26. 67 MACV S-2

    It is not so much that one loves what one does in public service, but that YOU know what must be done; perhaps best said in a graduation speech at West Point: “Duty, Honor, Country”. It makes me glad to know that there are some younger than me that still understand that there are things that matter, things larger and more important than ‘self’. And as was said in the RVN, ‘drive on MF, drive on!’.

    • MAC,

      One of my favorite phrases, which I haven’t heard very often in my career, is “FIDO”. Fuck It, Drive On.

      I once watched a soldier hobbling on crutches at Ft Hood. I didn’t know him, but he had a fresh wrap on his leg and was having a hard time with the crutches. I had the impression his injury was recent. He was walking down a sidewalk by himself. He tripped, almost fell, and apparently hit his hurt foot. I saw him grimace and grit his teeth in pain as he struggled to maintain balance. Then he stood back up, said “FIDO” to himself, and kept going. I called out “FIDO!” to him, he looked up, smiled and yelled it back. For some reason that incident really made me feel good about the Army.

  27. Methinks you are deeply mistaken about “civilians” not understanding a sense of duty. While there certainly are those who truly have no clue, the reality is that most do understand it.

    98% of mothers and fathers understand duty. Police officers, firefighters, doctors, EMTs, all CIVILIANS, they understand duty. Duty does not merely mean risking your life when you’d rather not.

    The key difference between the soldier and the civilian is simply “to whom they owe their duty”, but … even there, there really isn’t much difference. How often are we reminded that soldiers fight most of all for their comrades?

    Next time you’re about to fall into the pride trap of thinking soldiers and cops have a monopoly on duty, just remember the sick father driving hundreds of miles every weekend to see his kids, the mother staying up all night with her sick child, the grandparents who drop everything to take care of their grandchildren because their son or daughter has been deployed. Don’t forget the 20-something who drags herself out of bed at 2 in the morning to go pick up a friend or relative who’s car broke down. Or the professor who cancels his weekend trip because he’s got a bunch of papers to grade and a student who needs some help.

    • Biker,

      In my case, it’s not a pride trap. I grew up in a family of WW2, Korea and Vietnam veterans. At one point in my childhood my across-the-street neighbor was a WW2 vet, his neighbor was a VN vet, and the man next to him was a VN vet. VN vets lived next door, on both sides of my house. My understanding most of my life was that every normal person understood duty, even if they didn’t have a job requiring them to risk their life performing it. That belief has been reinforced by the shows of respect I’ve experienced as a cop and soldier.

      And that’s why those comments were such a shock; I honestly didn’t expect sane, intelligent people to question why I had to perform a duty I didn’t want to, at the risk of my own life.

      And one other point: the examples you listed are duty, but not duty at the risk of one’s life. I’m not saying those examples of duty are less important. I’m a daddy and granddaddy myself, and I know how crucial it is to be a good one. I don’t think the other writers had zero sense of duty to job, family or neighbors. I just don’t think they understood why someone would risk their lives when they didn’t want to.

      Here’s a reduction-ad-absurdum example of what I’m trying to say: a Code Pink protestor lives three hours away from Berkeley, California. Code Pink has a protest planned at the new USMC recruiting center at 8 am. To get there on time, the CP protester has to get up and 2 in the morning, put on her vagina outfit and “Read My Lips” sign (not making that part up), and drive three-plus hours because of traffic. Then she has to dance, sing and chant in the hot sun, all while wearing an uncomfortable vagina costume. All of that is unpleasant, all of it requires effort, all of it is done for a reason. But it’s not “duty” in the same sense as a cop, firefighter or soldier going toward danger, or a passerby pulling strangers from a burning car at an accident scene, or the bus driver who recently stopped his bus and wrestled a suicidal woman away from the edge of a bridge.

      • 71 zuk

        “…when they didn’t want to.” <— this is the crucial and telling bit. I'd bet those people spend most of their time ONLY doing things they "want to." Since at least the baby boomers and the sixties, whether or not you "want to" is the major test of doing something.

        Even the other examples listed of parents with kids, professors and students, etc, are about people who decided they "wanted" the things that come with the job. Parents who DON'T want to–don't, or they do it so poorly that they would be better off not doing it. I'm certain that a cop has MANY unforgettable examples of "parents" who won't and don't do those things because they "didn't want a kid/ don't want to be a parent." Many workers are the same, doing the minimum because they don't really want a job.

        I can easily understand the essentially selfish and self focused, and probably unconscious, attitude that you shouldn't do something you don't want to do. It's been trained into them from childhood.

        In contrast, the greatest generation, and those who grew up during the depression, learned some hard lessons early in life. Farmers who don't plant-don't eat. Worker's who don't work-aren't workers very long. Recent history and the extreme wealth of our society have insulated most people from the hard reality.

        Some people get it, in the examples given up-thread. But I'm not really surprised that many don't.


        (bought the new book 2 days ago, will post a review when I get it read…)

        (had this quote on my wall in high school. Don't know who it is paraphrasing, but it struck home. "Who must do the difficult things? He who can".)

        • I hear you, Zuk. Not sure how widespread that “I’ll only do it if I want to” mentality is, but it’s definitely out there.

          Thanks for buying my book, and I look forward to your review. Remember, brutal honesty. 🙂

  28. 73 Kirk

    Chris, I’ve often run into this same sort of thing. There’s them that gets it, and them that don’t.

    To truly be a Soldier or a cop is to know that when the question is asked “Who here will do this hard and dangerous thing?”, your answer will always be “I will”.

    That’s been true since we left the caves, and it will be true when we finally go extinct as a species. I suspect that the reason we’ll finally go down to that darkness will have a lot to do with how many we still have around who will answer that question with anything other than “Not I”.

    That’s what separates the sheep from the sheepdogs, I’m afraid. The willingness to run to the sound of the guns, instead of away from it.

  29. 74 Christopher Jarrett

    Hmm, I’m not a cop or military, so it wouldn’t be my job, but if a neighbor down the street, that i speak to 2 or 3 times a year calls me for help like the calls police sometimes get, I’d go in a second, while being terrified of the possibility of danger. The only difference i guess is that I’d tell someone to call the cops, so i know backup is already on the way.

    • Chris,

      I realize many non-cops and non-military people would answer the “call of duty”, so to speak, if called upon. My essay wasn’t intended to insinuate that civilians would never do it, although I understand it came across that way to many people. What I was trying to convey was the difference between those of us who accept that duty as a normal part of life, and people who simply don’t understand it.

      Thanks for commenting, I appreciate it. And thanks for being there when people need you.

    • You’re the exception to the rule my friend; most just watch or go the other way. Many people would not really know why you would risk it all for someone else but they’re not you. People always show up after the threat is over; I’ve even seen them show up and kick the bad guy after he was down. I call those people followers and people like you and Chris leaders.

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